No team was more pleased with their first weekend of January performance in the Great North Midget League than the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves.
The team solidified their claim to first place with back to back wins over the New Liskeard Cubs (5-4) and the North Bay Trappers (7-4).
Nicholas Chokan snapped a 4-4 tie, scoring with 6:43 remaining, as the Nickel Capital Wolves put some extra space between themselves and the second place crew from New Liskeard.
Glenn Therrien buried a pair of goals for the winners, with Connor Tessier and Ryan O'Bonsawin adding one each, while Logan Williamson, Devin Williamson, Cade Herd and Calvin Chartrand countered for the Cubs.
Buoyed by that tight victory, the Sudbury squad pretty much controlled their matchup with North Bay from start to finish Sunday afternoon, building up period leads of 3-1 and 6-2 in registering their 15th triumph in 22 games.
Seven different players lit the lamp for head coach Peter Michelutti Jr, with Alex Rodrigue, Hunter Chiblow, Alex Guido, Jacob Burton, Kyle Liinamaa, David Ranger and O'Bonsawin all turning the trick.
Braedan Villeneuve scored twice in a losing cause for the Trappers, with Jacob Delisle and Nick Davis rounding things out.
"Today was one of those games where everything was going 100 per cent," said Wolves' defenceman Nik Valliant after the win over North Bay.
Though pleased with much of what the Sudbury lads were able to do, it's not like this particular collection of talent is about to ease up with twelve games left in the regular season schedule, the most of any GNML team.
"We need hard practices, keeping focused before the game, especially in warm-ups," said Valliant.
"It's got to be there. We need to keep our cool during the games, no retaliation. We need to keep our strong passing game, playing as a team, and having strength out there, every shift."
The Nickel Capital Wolves begin eating up some of those hefty games in hand with a three-game road swing against the Kapuskasing Flyers this coming weekend, before looking at mid-week encounters with North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie on Jan. 19 and 20.
New Liskeard Cubs
Chasing down the front-runners, the New Liskeard Cubs knew they were in for a tough weekend, with back to back games against both of the Sudbury entries in the GNML.
The Cubs dropped a second straight single goal decision on Sunday afternoon, handed a 1-0 shutout by the Sudbury Minor Midget Wolves.
A first period power-play goal by Brett Jacklin would stand as the game-winner, as goaltender Alex Vendette turned aside 27 shots in picking up the clean sheet for Sudbury.
Jean-Mathieu Ouellet was at least as impressive at the other end of the rink, stopping 44 of the 45 pucks that he faced.
And though he was held off the scoresheet on Sunday, second year New Liskeard forward Cade Herd continues to show the way in terms of the league scoring race, compiling 19 goals and 32 assists in 26 games, six points better than Liinamaa.
Not surprisingly, the young Cubs' sniper was much more concerned about the overall play of the team, rather than simply his weekend point total.
"I don't think we got to the pucks first, and that's something we really need to work on for the playoffs," said Herd.
Even from a personal standpoint, Herd provided an interesting perspective.
"I need to work on my defensive game," he said. "I've been doing a lot offensively, but defence, that wins games."
New Liskeard has struggled opposite the Minor Midget Wolves this year, picking up just one win in four games, and limited to just four totals goals during those matchups. Still, Herd, for one, would rather have them in the league than not.
"I think it's awesome, because they're young and going to be playing against older guys eventually, so it's good to start early," he said. "And they're good competition for us."
With a record of 14-12-0-0, the Cubs still find themselves in sole possession of second place, three points ahead of both Kapuskasing and North Bay.
The team has just one game scheduled over the next two weeks, travelling to Timmins on Friday, before hosting the Flyers for a pair of games on Jan. 22 and 23.
North Bay Trappers
The North Bay Trappers are winless in 2016 and were edged 4-3 by the Soo Thunderbirds on Saturday before heading to Sudbury to face the Nickel Capital Wolves.
Lucas Theriault lifted the T-Birds to their win, drilling a pair of tallies, including the game-winner, with Raf Praysner and Parker Morgan chipping in with one goal each.
Braedan Villeneuve finished with a four-goal weekend, after starting things off with a pair in the Sault, with Joe Whittet adding the other.
And though head coach Mike Reise was not pleased with the events of the past few days, he was also a long way from being despondent over his team's future outlook.
"I like where we are," said Reise after the Sunday loss to Sudbury. "I don't like today where we are, but I like going forward that I have a good hockey team, when they want to play hockey."
As can be the case with just about any gathering of young teens in a sporting environment, the North Bay crew have seen their fair share of ups and downs this year.
"We started off really strong, and then our heads got too big, and we decided that we didn't want to play hockey for a while," said Reise.
"We eventually got back to working hard, which was good, but we couldn't keep our consistency going. It doesn't take much for us to lose our confidence in our own zone. We took a step backwards this weekend."
Deadlocked in third place with Kapuskasing with a mark of 12-14-1-0 (the Flyers are 12-12-0-1), the Trappers will try to regroup with a second visit to Sudbury in as many weekends.
Friday night at 7:30 p.m., North Bay and the Minor Midget Wolves will lock horns in Copper Cliff, with Reise and company off until Jan. 19 following that contest.
Minor Midget Wolves
As for the Minor Midget Wolves, GNML playoffs are not the end goal. The team was integrated into the northern midget "AAA" loop under the condition of a lessened game schedule, one which they would supplement with appearances at key Minor Midget "AAA" tournaments across the province, as well as no post-season play.
With 10 wins in their 17 league games, the minor midgets fit nicely in the mix, enjoying the competition the major midgets have been able to provide between tournament appearances.
With seven more games in the north, along with a chance to meet up with the Ontario minor midget crew in Peterborough from Jan. 15 to 17, the local OHL draft prospects understand the need for their game to be ramped up, yet again.
"We are making sure we are taking it one shift at a time, not worrying about the next team we are playing," said forward Tommy Vlahos. Not necessarily an easy task to achieve, when scouts are virtually a certainty at every single game.
"For all of us, it's a matter of just playing the game, and don't worry about who is watching," said Vlahos. "If you play good, they will notice you."
With regards to his own game, that means a little more involvement on the scoresheet, as Vlahos sees it.
"My skating has to get a little bit better, and I have to start contributing more to the team," he said. "I would say I'm more of a defensive player, so once I start scoring and stuff, it's good."
Still, he has been pleased with the progress he has demonstrated through his versatility up front, often moving from his more familiar position on the wing, across to the role of centreman, as the Minor Midget Wolves have dealt with injuries and suspensions over the course of the year.
Majors and Flyers
In the only other action last weekend, the Timmins Majors and Kapuskasing Flyers split a home and home set, with each squad winning in their adversaries home rink.
Ryan Forsyth drilled home the game-winning goal in the shootout, as the Flyers edged the Majors 4-3 Saturday at the McIntyre Arena.
Forsyth, along with Jacob Comeau and Martin Poisson, scored earlier in the game for Kap, with Karter Renouf, Stewart Parnel and Messier Quachegananswering for the Majors.
Jace Soroko provided the heroics the next afternoon for Timmins, netting the game-winner in the second period, and clinching the contest with an empty-net tally as the Majors doubled the Flyers 4-2.
Renouf and Parnel were both back on the scoresheet for head coach Cid Bradette, with Sebastien Despatie and Jared Dupuis finding the back of the net for Kapuskasing.